Health Library

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Definition

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is when the immune system makes antibodies that attack the body's healthy cells and tissue. There are many forms of lupus, but SLE is the most common.

Causes

The cause is not known.

Risk Factors

SLE is more common in women aged 15 to 45 years of age. It is also more common in people who are Black, Asian, and Hispanic.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

Symptoms

Symptoms can be mild or severe. It can affect one part of the body or many. Though symptoms can last a long time, there are often times without symptoms in between.

Problems may be:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Swollen muscles
  • Skin rashes over areas exposed to sunlight
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Belly pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
Common SLE Rash Sites
Lupus rash
Facial butterfly rash is a hallmark symptom of SLE.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Symptoms differ for each person and change over time. This can make it hard to diagnose.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Images taken with an MRI scan
  • Skin biopsy

Treatment

There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. One or more of these medicines may be used:

  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs to suppress the immune system
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Estrogens
  • B-cell therapy
  • Blood thinners

A person will also need to prevent flare ups. This can be done with things like staying out of the sun, limiting stress, and getting enough rest.

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

Resources

Lupus Foundation of America
http://www.lupus.org

Lupus Research Institute
http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org

Canadian Resources

The Kidney Foundation of Canada
http://kidney.ca

Lupus Canada
http://www.lupuscanada.org

References

Fanouriakis A, Kostopoulou M, et al. 2019 update of the EULAR recommendations for the management of systemic lupus erythematosus. Ann Rheum Dis. 2019 Jun;78(6):736-745.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Lupus/default.asp. Accessed January 8, 2021.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/systemic-lupus-erythematosus-sle. Accessed January 8, 2021.

Understanding lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/answers/topic/understanding-lupus. Accessed January 8, 2021.